- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

WEST FORK, Ark. (AP) - A number of Arkansas school districts intend to ask the state Department of Education for permission to shorten the school year because they’ve had so many snow days.

The state requires schools to be in session for 178 days. Once they miss more than 10, and take steps to make up many of them during spring break and other times, the state can cut them a break.

Forecasters say Arkansas this season has had 13 bouts of winter weather bad enough to impact travel - about twice the typical number.

West Fork students have missed 17 days of school this year because of snow and ice, while those in Elkins, Gentry and Lincoln have missed 15.

John Karnes, the superintendent at West Fork, said each one of the district’s 13 school bus routes have been affected by the weather.

“This is a serious situation,” Karnes said. “We don’t have a route that doesn’t have a mountain.”

Lincoln hasn’t been able to modify routes to keep children on paved and plowable roads.

“I don’t have the option for limited bus service,” Lincoln Superintendent Mary Ann Spears said. “Our dirt roads are awful and 80 percent of our students live on dirt roads.”

Karnes cut two days off West Fork’s Christmas break and also had students attend class Friday, when they had been set to be off. The other lost days have been added to the end of the year.

At Harrison, where at least a trace of snow has been recorded 16 times since Thanksgiving week, students were slated for classes Saturday. Fayetteville students will have classes on two future Saturdays, while those in Bentonville and Rogers might do the same.

Obtaining a state waiver isn’t a given. Arkansas last granted a batch in 2010, when seven districts received them, said Kimberly Friedman, a spokeswoman for the Education Department.

Flippin School District superintendent Dale Query said that while waivers are difficult to obtain, it’s not as bad as it has been.

“In the past, you had to swing from a trapeze on the moon to get a waiver. They just didn’t grant many at all,” Query said. “Waivers aren’t easy to get, but they’re granted in situations that make sense, such as the weather we’ve had.”

At Yellville-Summit, which has lost 11 days of school this year, Superintendent Larry Ivens said the panel that would discuss a waiver hasn’t been able to get together for a meeting: The weather’s been too bad.

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